The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

WAIT for the LIGHT

The author sent me an autographed copy of her novel to read and review:

Erin Adams wrote a easy to follow rudimentary story with mostly predictable aftermaths in a pedestrian prose. It’s not a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize, but it was a pleasant story with a good feeling ending. The novel was nowhere near as exciting as the blurb on the back book cover teased, but it did have its passionate moments (Erin must be a dog lover, for sure). I initially thought the author had too many characters, but she made good use of them and kept most of them in supporting roles. I didn’t feel any anticipation until the last 23 pages (chapter 45 to the epilogue). The author must learn how to keep the reader fully excited for all of the pages of her novel, not just the last few. I think the author has good storytelling abilities and will improve as she writes more novels.
  
The Pit Bull/dog fighting part of the novel wasn’t very original since everyone knows the story of the NFL’s Michael Vick. Anyway, in Erin Adams’ story she has rapper Rottie Wiles getting out of jail for the same reason as Michael Vick did...running illegal dog fights. He needs someone to clean up his image. At the same time our protagonist, Alexandra (Alex) Rader is being fired by her best friend and A-list actress, Lucy. Alex fell out of favor because Lucy came home from her latest rehab center with a sober companion by the name of Tatiana. Alex quickly finds out that there is no room for her as Lucy’s celebrity assistant anymore. Alex tells the pair, “That’s cool. Probably a good idea (that Tatiana’s is staying). Whatever I can do to help-” Tatiana broke in. “That’s the thing, Alex, Lucy needs to take this journey alone.” Lucy said, “I’ll pay you until you find something else.”

That something else is rapper Rottie Wiles, now known as Reggie Wiles...he doesn’t need the name Rottie to remind people of a Rottweiler, another fighting dog. Lucy tells Alex, “Listen, I have another job for you.” “What’s that?” Lucy says, “It’s a little sensitive, and it would be a big favor.” “Rottie Wiles just got out of jail, and he needs someone on a temporary basis. Even if you do it for a little while, it would be a big help. I can email you the details.” Alex goes over to Reggie’s mansion. It’s loaded with adult toys, guns, jewelry and even an NASA Space Shuttle Simulator! She is greeted by a big man named, Ham (his bodyguard/friend from East Cleveland). Basically Alex needs to polish the rapper’s tarnished image. It takes awhile for Reggie to warm-up to Alex as she experiences one funny faux pas after another. Eventually Reggie, Ham and Alex like each other. Does Reggie really want to reform? Or is he conning Alex? Is dog fighting so ingrained in Reggie’s bones that he can’t stop? Read this somewhat funny maiden novel and find out for yourself.

I’m going to give this novel an okay rating (three stars) because it’s just a story...not anything that you will remember a month from now. But I see that Erin Adams has talent and will be heard from in the future, hopefully with a more intense story. I only hope Erin doesn’t take my criticism with a grain of salt (the urban definition) because after 341 published reviews, I think (that) I know what I’m talking about.  
 
RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: It’s obvious Erin Adams loves dogs...her love drips through the pages.

My question is: Has Snoop Dogg ever done a rap video about a dog? According to hotnewhiphop.com, the answer is yes:
 
"Snoop Dogg has been a busy man this year. Snoop decided to revisit his latest album, Neva Left and share a new video in its support for the track "Toss it" featuring Too Short (one of the raunchiest emcees to ever bless the mic)."
 
"Asking his son Cordell to take his dog on a walk, the video finds Snoop turning into an actual Rottweiler who gets away from his leash and turns into a pimp on the loose, chasing woman on the beach and in the club. Meanwhile Too Short turns into a black bulldog and raps from the club with all the ladies on him in this Henry Behel - directed clip."
 
You can't make this stuff up!

Friday, May 11, 2018

THE AMENDMENT KILLER

The author sent me an autographed copy of his novel to read and review:

If you like inventive storylines...this novel is for you. I haven’t read anything this avant-garde since I read Warren Adler’s We are Holding the President Hostage (see my review of 8/17/2017). The author, Ronald S. Barak, brings up some interesting possibilities pertaining to the U.S. Constitution. Article Five of the Constitution can be interpreted to say that it is possible for the governed (in other words: me and you) to propose and pass an amendment without the permission or vote from Congress. At least that’s how the author sees it. Of course Congress sues the group known as the National Organization for Political Integrity (NoPoli), which sets up the next anomaly. But first, let me tell you what the 28th Amendment (the one proposed by NoPoli) is basically about: “Criminalizing abuse of power and corruption on the part of our political representatives”, which seems like a good thing to me. The case will be heard by the Supreme Court and its nine justices (first time on live TV). One congressman tells Mr. Esposito, the lead attorney for the Congress side, “You don’t think I hold public office for just the salary and benefits that come with the job, do you? The real money is in what I make behind the scenes. The parties and the lobbyists who pay me are very pleased with my services and are quite willing to pay me for what I do. I’m just like any other broker who brings two parties together. They don’t do that for free. Neither do I. The only difference is that I don’t admit it.” NoPoli’s amendment seems to be right on the money (so to speak).

Okay back to that anomaly I mentioned in the first paragraph. One of the justices, Arnold Hirschfeld, has his eleven year old granddaughter, Cassie, kidnapped just before the trial starts. While Hirschfeld is in court waiting for the suit to start, he is contacted by the kidnapper (who we find out later is Thomas T. Thomas III), “We have your granddaughter. Here’s what you need to do.” Who is we? The government? A rogue congressman? The man known as Thomas lets the judge know that Cassie will die if he can’t convince the other judges to vote against NoPoli. Would the POTUS get involved in this action? Is Thomas working for him? Meanwhile, NBN-TV is televising the live event with Anne Nishimura as the hostess. She is flanked by commentators, Steve Kessler (the CEO of NoPoli) and Christopher Elliot (head of a prestigious D.C. law firm). Nishimura ask Elliot, “Chris, I thought all amendments to the Constitution have to go through Congress. Have I got that wrong?” Did anybody notice that Judge Hirschfeld suddenly seemed very nervous? Chris says, “That’s precisely why we’re here, Anne. Congress brought this lawsuit because it believes NoPoli preempted the constitutionally mandated amendment process. It’s asking the Supreme Court to rule on that very question.” As I was reading this novel, I wondered if there was some truth in NoPoli’s claim that they don’t need Congress’s permission to pass an amendment. Anyway, The third quirk in this novel is a doozy!

Alright, we have an amendment passed by the people that is being challenged by Congress in the Supreme Court, and a kidnapping of one of the Supreme Court judge’s granddaughter in progress. What other oddity does this novel have? Well, if you don’t trust the kidnapper, what do you do? What I mean is: What if the Judge gets the other judges to vote his and the kidnapper’s way, but the kidnapper (Thomas) doesn’t let Cassie go? Will he kill her anyway? So the author came up with a great solution. A kidnapping escrow account! Yes, turn over Cassie to a trusted third party. If Judge Hirschfeld gets the other justices to vote against NoPoli, then the third party gives Cassie back to her parents. If Judge Hirschfeld fails to sway the vote...Cassie goes back to the kidnappers...to be killed? Wow, what a possibility. Has that ever happened? Maybe. When the son of American hero Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped in 1932 by Bruno Hauptmann; a Bronx personality, John Condon, offered $1,000 for the kidnapper to turn the baby over to a Catholic priest (a third party). But sadly, the child was killed by Hauptmann before that arrangement could be finalized. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Ronald S. Barak’s innovative and completely original novel. Great job!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The author loosely interpreted Article Five of the U.S. Constitution in order to come up with his storyline. Article Five describes the process whereby the Constitution, the nation’s frame of government, may be altered. I will print the contents of Article Five below. See if you can identify a phrase in the text that gave Ronald S. Barak the idea that the Constitution could be amended without Congressional approval.

                                                      The Text:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

Wow, that was all in one sentence! I guess lawyers can debate the Article’s intention.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

the JOHNSTOWN FLOOD

Awesome writing by America’s narrative nonfiction master, David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of John Adams and Truman and recent bestseller, the Wright Brothers (see my review of 2/17/2016), relates the horrible details of America’s worst disaster of its time, the Johnstown Flood. The first part of the book was a little laid-back (it’s almost sacrilegious to say that), but it was necessary to give the reader the background of The South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club and its Pittsburgh millionaires and the mostly common folk of Johnstown, located fourteen miles down the mountain from the private club’s mountain Lake and dam. The second part chronicles the bursting of the dam on May 31 1889 and its release of 14.5 million cubic meters of water on its fourteen mile trip down the mountain, wiping out everything on its way to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. This middle section was written so well and so exciting that I thought it was fictive writing. That’s why McCullough is known as the maestro of writing nonfiction that reads like fiction...great job. This is the book that turned around the career of another favorite writer of mine, Erik Larson (I’ll talk about him in my comment section). Anyway, the third part of this book covers the massive cleanup effort, the Press coverage, the arrival of Clara Barton and her American Red Cross, and the various failed litigations against the millionaires on the top of the mountain. “Not a nickel was ever collected through damage suits from the South Fork Fishing and Hunting club or from any of its members. Even though a later engineer report on the dam said, “the job had been botched by amateurs.” The club never thought they did anything wrong after they bought the resort and dam. “The club people took it for granted that the men who rebuilt the dam - the men reputed to be expert in such matters - handled the job properly. They apparently never questioned the professed wisdom of the experts, nor bothered to look critically at what the experts were doing...even though anyone with a minimum of horse sense could, if he had taken a moment to think about it, have realized that an earth dam without any means for controlling the level of water it contained was not a very good idea.” 2,209 innocent people died because of the club’s cavalier attitude. Let’s go over some of David McCullough’s best passages from his historic book.

“The storm had started out of Kansas and Nebraska, two days before, on May 28. The following day there had been hard rains in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Trains had been delayed, roads washed out. When the storm struck western Pennsylvania it was the worst downpour that had ever been recorded for that section of the country...estimated that from six to eight inches of rain fell in twenty - four hours over nearly the entire central section. On the mountains there were places where the fall was ten inches.” “By the start of the 1880’s Johnstown and its neighboring boroughs had a total population of about 15,000. On the afternoon of May 30, 1889, there were nearly 30,000 people living in the valley...much would be written later on how the wealthy men of Johnstown lived on high ground, while the poor were crowded into the lowlands.” “Year in, year out men were killed in the mills (Johnstown was a big factory town), or maimed for life. Small boys playing around the railroad tracks that were cut in and out of the town would jump too late or too soon and lose a leg or an arm, or lie in a coma for weeks with the whole town talking about them until they stopped breathing forever.” Can this man write or what? I’m using all of his quotes to do my review to illustrate his genius. “So far it had been a good year. Except for the measles the town seemed pretty healthy. Talk was that it would be a good summer for steel. Prices might well improve, and perhaps wages with them, and there would be no labor trouble to complicate things, as there would probably be in Pittsburgh.”

When the rain started coming down about four o’clock, it was very fine and gentle, little more than a cold mist. Even so, no one welcomed it. There had already been more than a hundred days of rain that year, and the rivers were running high as it was. The first signs of trouble had been a heavy snow in April, which had melted almost as soon as it came down. Then in May there had been eleven days of rain.” About five o’clock, the rain stopped. “About nine the rain began again, gentle and quiet as earlier. But an hour or so later it started pouring and there seemed no end to it.” Meanwhile, the man-made Lake Conemaugh (the Johnstown people called it South Fork dam) was starting to swell. The dam was 72 feet high, 900 feet long and the lake covered 450 acres and was 75 feet deep in spots. The lake water was estimated to be twenty million tons as it swelled higher...fourteen miles above Johnstown. “The construction technique was the accepted one for earth dams, and, it should be said, earth dams have been accepted for thousands of years as a perfectly fine way to hold back water.” “As far as the gentlemen of South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club were concerned no better life could be asked for. They were an early-rising, healthy, hard-working, no-nonsense lot, Scotch-Irish most of them, Freemasons, tough, canny, and, without question, extremely fortunate to have been in Pittsburgh at that particular moment in history. They were men who put on few airs. They believed in the sanctity of private property and the protective tariff. They saw themselves as God-fearing, steady, solid people, and, for all their new fortunes, most of them were.”

While reading this book, I never got the idea that the millionaire industrialists (that owned the private club on top of the mountain) were irresponsible or derelict (well maybe a little), but they just didn’t think of the possibility of the dam failing. Why would they? Do you think club members like Andrew Carnegie or Andrew Mellon would ever think that a historic two day pouring rain would break their dam? Would it even cross their minds? As a matter of fact, the recently hired engineer, John G. Parke, Jr., did his best to warn the people down in the valley, as the rain came in sheets, and the water level rose to a dangerous level in the lake. But most of the people he encountered in the valley towns below didn’t believe him. It was previously said for many years that the dam would break. It was like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, in other words, another false alarm...not this time. “When the dam let go, the lake seemed to leap into the valley like a living thing, roaring like a mighty battle, one eyewitness would say. The water struck the valley treetop high and rushed out through the breach in the dam so fast that, as John Parke noted, there was a depression of at least ten feet in the surface of the water flowing out, on a line with the inner face of the breast and sloping back to the level of the lake about 150 feet from the breast.” “Parke estimated that it took forty-five minutes for the entire lake to empty.” Although this story is a matter of history, I’m going to stop my review here. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t read a narrative nonfiction book before...start with this dramatic one.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I mentioned Erik Larson in the first paragraph. Erik is a disciple of David McCullough’s narrative nonfiction genre. In an AARP article a couple of years ago, Erik stated that, “I’ve been a journalist for over a decade and had published two books on contemporary subjects, but I was dismayed by the fact that everything I wrote had a brief shelf life. It seemed to me that books on historical subjects might not only have a longer life but might also be more fun to do. I had been mulling the idea of writing about a historical murder case.”

While Erik’s career was in flux, he read McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood and saw the light. He wanted to continue writing nonfiction, but wanted it to seem like fiction. He decided to wait writing the famous murder case, The Devil in the White City (see my review of 1/26/2012). Instead he wrote a disaster book, Isaac’s Storm (see my review of 7/13/2012), which told the story of the deadly hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900. Startlingly, the loss of life in Galveston was actually greater than the Johnstown Flood's death total. Since Erik Larson is one of my favorite writers, I also read and reviewed, Thunderstruck (see my review of 4/25/2012) and Dead Wake (see my review of 9/19/2015).
 
To understand what I'm saying about writing a nonfiction novel that reads like fiction, I'll include three paragraphs verbatim where McCullough describes what happened during the flood when the debris and people were thrown against a stone bridge...and were stuck there while a fire broke out:
 
"But by far the worse of the night's horrors was the fire at the bridge. Minnie Chambers, the girl who clung to the roof of the Cambria works, said later that she could hear screaming from the bridge all through the night. William Tice, who owned a drugstore on Portage Street, described what he saw soon after he had been fished out of the water near the bridge."
 
"I went up to the embankment and looked across the bridge, which was filled full of debris, and on it were thousands of men, women, and children, who were screaming and yelling for help, as at this time the debris was on fire, and after each crash there was a moment of solemn silence, and those voices would again be heard crying in vain for help that came not. At each crash hundreds were forced under and slain."
 
"I saw hundreds of them as the flames approached throw up their hands and fall backward into the fire, and those who had escaped drowning were reserved for the more horrible fate of being burned to death. At last I could endure it no longer, and had to leave, as I could see no more."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

CHASING HINDY

The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

Can a female patent lawyer from California be exciting enough to carry an entire story? I don’t know...I wasn’t fired up. Yea, I know a few authors have given certain character’s a mundane or unusual occupation and made them into a star. Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon (a Harvard professor of religious symbology) is one of them. And I know G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown (a fictional Roman Catholic priest) was a detective that generated 53 short stories from 1910 to 1936, but really...a patent attorney? Since the author, Darin Gibby, is also a patent attorney, he probably felt compelled to shape his character out of his own roots. I’m not saying that his book is substandard, because it’s not. It’s just that the subject matter and subsequent mystery felt kinda humdrum to me. Although I have to say that Mr. Gibby did a yeoman’s job striving to make the novel stimulating and according to most reviewers...he succeeded. Each to his own. So what’s hot in the world of patent attorneys?  

New and cheaper energy technologies, of course! Meet Addy, the newest partner of the law firm of Wyckoff and Schechter. Addy also dabbles in alternative energy with her own experiments in her red Ford Mustang pulling a tethered hydrogen-filled balloon. “The retrofitted Mustang was really powered by four electric motors using electricity produced by solar panels and a conventional fuel cell.” What? Never mind, it’s too complicated to explain any further. While in traffic, “Her heart stopped. In the car next to her someone was pointing a bazooka-sized gizmo at her balloon...a flare shot out, aimed straight at her floating ball of hydrogen.” Who is this guy? “The dirigible burst into a giant fireball, then slowly deflated and floated toward the Shelby’s crimson hood.”Just as the “molten mass of goo” engulfed her, someone pulled her out of the car. Her rescuer said that he was able to snap a picture (with his phone) of the attacker leaving the scene. He says, “You can kind of see a tattoo on his forearm. The police will love this.” Since she had no licence to pull a balloon filled with hydrogen, her car was impounded.

Her boss at the law firm, Perry Tomkins summons her to his office. He is not mad. He feels the incident seen on TV gave the firm’s Green Division a uplift. She is nervous, but Perry says, “So stop fidgeting. In fact, the partners - I mean the rest of the partners - consulted, and we’re cautiously pleased about the news coverage. Two of them even called you a crusading green lawyer.” By the way, a FBI agent, Jesse Long, gets the picture of the man with the tattoo on his arm. What part will this agent play in this story? Even though I said that I was somewhat bored with this story, I know how to write a review to effectuate excitement. What do you think? Are you excited? Anyway, since Perry’s wife has recently passed away, he asks Addy to represent the firm at the Asian Patent Conference in Hanoi. Addy nodded, “Not only would she get to visit her birthplace but there was a vast, new market for her to tap into. She’d go the first year, learn the ropes, soak up the the etiquette and protocols, then be prepared the following year with a strategy.” She decides to go to Vietnam.

On her first day in Vietnam, Addy meets Quinn Moon from Korea. He works for a company called WTG (what does that stand for). Is he the same man that pulled her out of the burning Mustang and took the picture of the assailant’s tattooed arm. He says to Addy, “We should talk once you’re settled in.” Addy is accosted on a darkened alley as she tries to walk to her hotel. The assailant says to her, “Go home to where you belong. No talking to anyone. Vietnam doesn’t want you. And trust me, you don’t want to talk to anyone here at the conference. Nobody. Mind your own business. If anyone approaches you to talk about some invention, you leave it alone. Just leave it alone.” Addy meets Quinn the next day at a conference charity event and finds out that he is the man that helped her in California. Why did he follow her to Vietnam? She is upset that he followed her. Quinn says, “No, let me explain. I need a U.S. patent attorney - a really good one - who I can trust...you were the top one on my list, but you hightailed it to Vietnam. So I had to follow you here.” Is he telling the truth?

On page 44, Quinn says to Addy, “I’ll let you in on my secret - at least at a high enough level that you can understand the stakes, and why people want to stop me. I’ve invented a technology that will allow a car to run on water...and I want you to be the one to clear the legal hurdles so everyone can have a water - fueled car.” So there you go, I’ve set up the story. You will have to buy your own copy to find out how all this boils down. I know (that) I said the idea of a patent attorney as a heroine was boring, but Darin Gibby did a great job digging himself out of a possible hole. (occupational jail?) Haha.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I talked about Father Brown in the first paragraph. Did you know that Father Brown has been a British TV show since 2013 on BBC One? It stars Mark Williams as Father Brown, who uses his own wits to solve mysteries. His persona is equivalent to Columbo, the USA TV show that starred Peter Falk. Same folksy and shrewd way of solving crimes.

Another author that comes to my mind is Dick Francis. He never uses a detective, or a cop to solve the mysteries in his novels. Most of the time, he uses a horse jockey to solve his crimes. But he has also written novels using a painter, an inventor, a wine merchant, an architect, and an airline pilot to unravel his puzzling novels. Go figure!     

Thursday, April 12, 2018

the CHALK MAN

Okay, I knew C. J. Tudor wrote a bestselling whodunit, but a whodunit to the nth degree? I was  trying to figure out who the murderer was (and I picked someone) then later in the novel my pick got murdered! Then it happened again. How many bananas do I have to peel before I find out who dismembered the young girl early in the novel? A lot...I guess. The chapters move back and forth between 1986 (the original murder) and 2016 (30 years later). This alternating years system seems to be the popular way of writing novels nowadays. And where it was previously cumbersome...it’s now seems tighter than a duck’s ass. Does that make any sense? C. J. Tudor has mastered cliffhanging chapter endings that are 30 years apart. I wish I could come up with a better term for twist and turns, because the author had a inordinate amount of them in her maiden novel. Great job of keeping the reader in the fog and off kilter.
 
In the Prologue, “The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange - and - brown leaves...her almond eyes stared up at the canopy of sycamore, beech, and oak, but they didn’t see...They didn’t blink as shiny black beetles scurried over their pupils. A short distance away, a pale hand stretched out from its own small shroud of leaves as if searching for help...the rest of her body lay out of reach, hidden in other secluded spots around the woods. Close by, a twig snapped, loud as a firecracker in the stillness, and a flurry of birds exploded out of the undergrowth. Someone approached.” That someone picked up her head and put it in a bag “where it nestled among a few broken stubs of chalk.” I failed to figure out who the person was that picked up the girl’s head. I didn’t find out until the book’s final pages. But the question was always...was that the murderer or the finder?
The story centers around a clique of five twelve-year-old friends living in Anderbury, England in 1986. The narrator of the story is Eddie “Munster” Adams (nicknamed so because of the Addams Family and  Munsters TV shows). His friends are: Fat Gav, Metal Mickey (because of his mouth braces), David Hopkins (Hoppo), and a girl named Nicky, the daughter of the local Vicar, Reverend Martin (this man seemed strange). That was the group. They were constantly harassed by Metal Mickey’s older brother, Sean, and his gang of young toughs. So when did the problems for Eddie’s gang start? On page three, “The problem was, none of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when Fat Gav got the bucket of chalks for his birthday? Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body? Any number of beginnings. Any of them, I guess you could call the start. But really, I think it all began on the day of the fair...because it was the day that everything stopped being normal.”
 
This was the first year that Eddie’s bunch were allowed to go to the annual fair by themselves.The five kids had no intention of following their parents warnings and instructions. “There’s nothing better than doing something you shouldn’t and getting one over on an adult while doing it.” Sometime during the day, Eddie loses his wallet. He thinks he left it at the hot dog stand. He runs over there by himself and sees the new teacher in town, Mr. Halloran, eating a hot dog and drinking a blue slushy through a straw and watching the Waltzers (one of the amusement rides), or was he watching the beautiful girl waiting in line? “It was hard to miss the Pale Man. He was very tall, for a start, and thin. He wore stonewashed jeans, a baggy white shirt and a big straw hat. He looked like...David Bowie. Mr. Halloran was an albino...was he a good man? He looked scary. Suddenly there was a horrible accident. One of the Waltzer cars broke loose into the beautiful girl. She was violently pushed into the hot dog stand. Eddie kneeled by her...was she dead? “Help me”, she rasped. A single eye stared at Eddie, the other one rested limply on her cheek. “Her lower leg was barely hanging on, tethered only by stringy tendons.” With Eddie’s help, Mr. Halloran stopped the bleeding and saved her life. Eddie now knew her only as the Waltzer Girl. They were claimed local heroes by the newspapers for saving the girl's life.

The story moves to 2016. “The letter arrives without a flourish or fanfare or even a sense of foreboding. It slips through the letter box, sandwiched between a charity envelope for Macmillan and a flyer for a new pizza takeaway.” Eddie is now a 42 year old teacher, still living in his mum’s house (mum lives on her own and dad is dead). Eddie has a somewhat attractive boarder named Chloe (I kept asking myself...who is she?). Later on in the day... “I sit down at the desk. I’m pretty sure Chloe isn’t at home and won’t be back anytime soon, but I’ve locked the door, anyway. I open the envelope I received this morning and look at it’s contents again.There’s no writing. But the message is very clear. A stick figure with a noose around its neck. It’s drawn in crayon, which is wrong. Perhaps that’s why, as an added reminder, the sender has included something else. I tip up the envelope and it falls to the desk in a small cloud of dust. A single piece of white chalk.” Did the other members of Eddie’s circle get the same letter, or did one of them send it to the other four? All that excitement happened in the first 42 pages of C. J. Tudor’s novel. It’s a tough novel to put down at bedtime. Maybe it’s a bedtime story?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I’m really enjoying this recent crop of young suspense writers. Most of them are very talented woman, who know how to put a thriller together with savvy enthusiasm. Okay, what are the novels I recently reviewed? During the last three years, these are my favorites:

Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (see my review of 8/16/2015), Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 (see my review of 9/7/2016), JP Delaney’s The Girl Before (see my review of 2/3/2017), Paula Hawkins’ Into the Water (see my review of 5/21/2017), Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game (see my review of 9/19/2017) and A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window (see my review of 1/25/2018).

So what was my favorite? Hands down, it was JP Delaney’s The Girl Before! Great writing, great suspense. Out of the above writers, JP Delaney and A. J. Finn are the only two male writers (both writing under pen names).  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

W a novel


The author sent a copy of his novel to me to read and review:

I don’t share the views of the other reviewers of this novel. It is written in a helter-skelter fashion with absolutely no plot or purpose. Who is W and who cares. Why are the five stories (?) written in a somewhat ergodic style? If it wasn’t for the Denmark/Norway/Greenland story, I would have to give this novel zero stars. And do the other reviewers really know who Erskine Caldwell is? Is W a novel... Southern Gothic literature? How can reviewers compare this novel to anything Caldwell wrote? And to compare John Banks novel to Mark Twain is blasphemy. The novel is written in a manner that makes it difficult to know who is who (not that I cared after fifty pages or so) and what that character’s purpose was in this novel.

The writer goes from: “W, All I hear is your crying. It isn’t like when you were a kid and you cried all the time. This is heartbreaking and I am helpless.” to “ON THE ISLAND OF GOTLAND there once lived a man named Thorbjorn who had amassed great wealth through the capture and selling of slaves.” to “DEAREST CONSTANCE, Greetings, my love, I now have been in the town of Omaha for one week, and when not purchasing supplies and equipage, and making other necessary arrangements for a long journey by “prairie schooner,” I have been in a state of joy because of your letters!” to “WILL, have you had time to watch the news lately, or have you been too busy saving the world one freeloader at a time?” to “THORDIS, ARNTHOR, AND REAL BEAR sailed to Norway to live on Arnthor’s father’s land.” to “BABY BROTHER WILLIAM, I am addressing you from the freedom of college.” to “THERE WAS A MAN living in Greenland named Einar Gunnarsson, who was also called Einar Pigshitsson, though he was rarely called this latter name within his hearing.” This is the abridged version of the author’s first 38 pages...his first chapter. I will not comment on the next 316 pages.

This will be my all-time shortest review, because I have nothing good to say about this novel. I have nothing to compare W a novel to. I issue a caveat emptor warning to anyone contemplating reading this novel.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars

Comment: I hate rating a author’s work like I did this one. I know that it’s his baby. This is my 336th book review, so I think I know what I’m talking about. Many well established authors have lauded my reviews and my credentials via numerous emails.     

Monday, April 2, 2018

the WOMEN in the CASTLE

Jessica Shattuck writes historical fiction that features plenty of bravery along with lots of regret  for most of the main characters in her novel. To paraphrase one of the women in the castle (Ania), “At the end of your life you have done what you have done. There is nothing you can change now. No talk in the world can change the past. It is what it is.” She was remembering her participation in the early Nazi movement with the Hitler youth camps and her convenient blindness to what was really happening in Hitler’s Germany. In the novel’s prologue, the story centers around the Burg (castle) Lingenfels beginning with a 1938 harvest party hosted by Marianne Von Lingenfels, niece-in-law of the castle’s countess. The castle is of her husband Albrecht’s ancestors. They have three children, Fritz, Elisabeth and Katarina, who will be in the story in somewhat minor rolls through the novel’s end.

The castle has fallen into a slightly ruined state by the time the drums of WWII are being heard. While the party is going on, Marianne notices that her husband, Albrecht, her dear childhood friend, Constantine (Connie) Fledermann, and other leading citizens are not partying. She finds the men in Albrecht’s study. Marianne wants to know what’s going on. Albrecht says, “It seems Goebbels has given orders for the SA to incite rioting, destruction of Jewish property. They’re throwing stones through shop windows and looting, making a sport…” Marianne says, “How terrible!” Albrecht says, “It’s descent into madness - Hitler is exactly the maniac we’ve suspected!” It appears that the men are plotting to assassinate Hitler. What will happen to the wives and children of the plotters if they fail to kill Hitler? Her friend, Connie, knows that he and his co-conspirators will be hanged if they botch the assassination attempt. If that happens, Connie says to Marianne, “Then you will see to it that they (the plotter's women and children) are all right. You are appointed the commander of the wives and children.” This prologue is the presupposition of the story.

History tells us that the attempt to assassinate Hitler failed in 1944. All the conspirators were executed. That left the job of finding the scattered wives and children up to Marianne Von Lingenfels. Each of the recovered women seemed brave (and they were) on the surface but they also had hidden flaws that emerged later on in the novel. Connie Fledermann’s young wife, Benita, and her son, Martin, were found wandering around the Russian section of Berlin in 1945. “In Berlin, sleep had been rare. If it wasn’t the Russian captain barging into what what was left of Benita’s bombed-out flat, it was some other bastard who didn’t yet understand that she belonged to the captain.” By the perseverance and bravery of Marianne, Benita is rescued from the Russians and Benita’s son, Martin, is found in a Children’s Home under the name of Martin Schmidt. They are carted back to the castle, which will eventually become part of the American zone.

At this point, the author starts flip-flopping between years 1938,1945,1944 and 1950 to give the reader a better insight to all the women. Next to be found and brought back to the castle is Ania Grabarek. Her husband was the Polish diplomat who brought the word of Kristallnacht to the 1938 harvest party secret meeting at the castle. She was found at the Tollingen Displaced Persons Camp. Marianne tells Ania’s boys, Anselm and Wolfgang, “Your father was a brave man...it’s my honor to host his family.” Once the families are settled in Burg Lingenfels, the story gets engrossing as we find out (remember we are flip-flopping years) what happened between the years 1938 through 1950 amongst these three women and their children individually. This is the juicy part that I’m not going to divulge. I thought that the author, Jessica Shattuck, had excellent command of her prose and put down her words in a stark realistic way. Her style made the novel seem sad and dreary, which I’m sure is the mood she wanted to effectuate.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Goodreads.com says that the best Nazi novel written is by Hugo Award winning author, Philip K. Dick. His classic The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962. “It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the yellow pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war - and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.”

I have two favorites that I have read and reviewed. The first one is Anthony Doerr’s 2014 bestseller, All the Light We Cannot See (see my review of 12/30/2014). It’s the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in occupied France.

The second novel is Kristin Hannah’s 2015 bestseller, The Nightingale (see my review of 10/9/2015). It’s the story of Vianne Mauriac who is forced to take an enemy into her French home, while her husband fights on the front.

I know...I know, I’ll get to Markus Zusak’s, The Book Thief.

Friday, March 23, 2018

DEATH of a Movie Star

The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

Although I thought the TV show (the venue of the novel) televised from Ventura, Ca was preposterous and the novel’s ending filled with soppy cornball fluff, I kinda liked the story. Go figure. At times the writing almost seemed childlike. Other times it felt macabre. But at no times did I feel like laughing, even though the novel’s back cover states...Get ready to laugh your head off. So I’m a little muddled over whether I liked the novel or not. I think (that) I’ll settle on...I liked it (sort of). I say sort of because I’m not sure the author, Timothy Patrick, even knows what genre his book belongs in. It’s rather freakish. So let me tell you a little bit about the story.

Lenora Danmore has a reality TV show, StarBash, which is aired on the site of her Ventura, Ca ranch for seventeen weeks per season (this is year four of the show). The show is a monster hit and is watched by 50 million people each week. Lenora is 87 years old and is building a movie museum on her property, mainly to highlight her egotistical career. The museum is very hi-tech with many androids (it’s the year 2020) taking parts in the scenes depicting her films. Her producer and TV host is Micah Bailey, who lives on Lenora’s estate. The show highlights 15 washed-up actors, who will be disparaged and shamed for seventeen weeks until one of them gets a second chance in Hollywood by winning the Greasy Dishrag (the show’s trophy) and a ten million dollar movie contract. For that contract, the contestants will absorb the show’s degradations with sad smiles on their faces.

So the world wants to know why Cassandra Moreaux, a respected Hollywood A-lister, would join the show as a contestant. Why would she be willing to take 17 weeks of insults (if she survives the full season without being fired)? Does she have evidence of Lenora helping blacklist her mom, Wendy Rainy, during the Joe McCarthy Red Scare era, thus ruining her mom’s career? And did the show purposely hire one time popular actress Brandi Bonacore, now a waitress, to be a contestant on the show because of her feud with Cassandra? And what is Lenora scheming in order to launch her self-centered museum? What type of revenge is Cassandra cooking up against Lenora. What’s Brandi’s reprisal against Cassandra going to be? And what’s on the agenda of StarBash’s host, Micah Bailey, who also owns the rights to the show? Wow, it seems like a lot of questions need to be answered (haha). Hey, I'm finally laughing!

Brandi knew, “The screwy thing was that because of the show’s popularity, if a down-and-out actor dared cross the line and did well on the show, then that suddenly popular rogue actor zoomed straight to the top, and the jobs came flooding in.” And Cassandra complained to Micah Bailey, “Every week you tell 50 million people that actors are less than human and deserve to be treated like shit.” Who is right? Are they both right? One thing for sure is that Lenora Danmore holds the Joker card. Now that you have a taste of this novel, you will have to buy your own copy to find out who wins the 10 million dollar movie contract. Is it Cassandra? Is it Brandi? Or is it one of the thirteen other contestants that I didn’t even mention?

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I understand that Timothy Patrick’s novel is a satire on Tinseltown, but is Hollywood that shallow? Are their egos that large? Probably. I do remember reading that Sylvester Stallone orders his servants not look at him while they are in the same room with him and when they leave the room, their eyes must be looking down on the floor as they back out of the room. I’ve never watched another of his movies (and I don’t even know if it’s true or not).

If you read Christina Crawford’s 1978 book, Mommie Dearest, you know how cruel actress Joan Crawford was to her daughter. It’s been said that Quentin Tarantino is well beyond self-assured. It’s been reported that Will Smith thinks that he is the biggest star in the world. Gwyneth Paltrow thinks she is so big that she doesn’t need to learn the plot of the movie she is in (I still like her). Alec Baldwin has been called “a complete ass.” Charlie Sheen has been called rich, arrogant and perverted.

And what can you say about Donald Trump? I rest my case.